Next fall, PBS will begin airing a three-hour Saturday morning kids block made up entirely of Nelvana series based on such literary properties as Don Freeman’s Corduroy Bear and William Joyce’s George Shrinks. ‘We were totally in love with the work represented there,’ says John Wilson, PBS’s head of programming, also pointing to Nelvana’s track record with such preschool series as Franklin and Little Bear.
Wilson dismisses the idea that acquiring a block, even a block from a producer outside its home turf, is a more difficult move for a pubcaster, saying that the block will fulfill its mandates to showcase the best kids programming, to not simply do no harm but to provide benefit, and to work with some of today’s best kids authors. ‘Public television has long been a point of entry for the best in world television,’ he adds, and says PBS’s lineup remains ‘a very diversified portfolio from a number of producers,’ including Children’s Television Workshop, Cinar and Scholastic.
Other advantages to the block include the economy of scale of working with one producer for six series. A ‘significant amount’ of the block’s funding will come from corporate underwriting, says Wilson, in addition to the PBS license fee, international distribution and advances against home video and other ancillary businesses.
The block offers increased scheduling flexibility, enabling PBS to program half-hour series to begin at quarter past the hour to capture kids at the top and bottom of the hour. It also allows PBS to gauge the popularity of programs before choosing at least two to strip for fall 2002, and to create a strong presence in a daypart when it does not have a lot of kids programming and preschoolers generally are underserved. And with the block being called PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch, it won’t dilute the PBS Kids brand.
Wilson says a unique challenge for PBS is receiving carriage from its nearly 350 stations, but he expects 70% to 80% of the country to be covered at the block’s launch.